It is impossible not to notice the thick smogs that periodically blanket Krakow, or to wonder what they are doing to your lungs, but even on seemingly clear days the city’s air is among the most polluted in Europe with levels of contaminants frequently exceeding World Health Organisation safe limits.
Krakow is now firmly established as one of Europe’s top tourist destinations, attracting nine million visitors in 2012. Multinational companies are flocking here, as are young people unable to find jobs elsewhere in Europe. How long before awareness of the city’s poor air quality begins to make the city unattractive, threatening its economic health as well as the health of the people who live here?
According to the air-pollution activism group Krakowski Alarm Smogowy (Krakow Smog Alarm), the city has some of the poorest air quality in the world. They point to figures from the World Health Organisation that rank Krakow as eighth worst among 575 cities globally that record annual mean concentrations of PM2.5 in their air.
PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns) and PM10 (smaller than 10 microns) are monitored because they have been shown to be a major cause of asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems, respiratory diseases, birth defects and premature death. Krakow’s standing in the PM 10 rankings is an alarming 145 out of 1,100 cities where annual mean concentrations are recorded.
Placing these figures in perspective, it is important to note that many cities in the world that probably have worse air quality than Krakow’s do not officially record pollution levels. In other words: ‘where annual mean concentrations are recorded’ does not include what are probably the most polluted cities globally.
Despite this small consolation, Cracovians have become increasingly aware, and angry, about the quality of their air. Krakowski Alarm Smogowy was formed in December 2012, and has already gathered over 9,000 followers on Facebook. Describing itself as an: “apolitical, public initiative of Cracovians who want to live in the city and breathe air that is safe for their health and life,” the group has also created an online petition demanding action from the Małopolska Regional Assembly that now has more than 6,500 signatures.